Friday, January 18, 2008

I Am Legend | The Omega Man | 28 Days Later

The only film I saw this Christmas was "I Am Legend". Not that I'm complaining. It was a good movie, and though I never really thought of the story as a zombie-genre film it made me curious to see other zombies-by-virus films. So I rented "28 Days Later" and the 1971 version of "I Am Legend", "The Omega Man" to compare.

The greatest thing about all three films is seeing major cities in apocalyptic abandonment (NYC in I Am Legend, L.A. in The Omega Man and London in 28 Days). As you might expect, the 1970's Omega Man doesn't really hold up. While it's interesting seeing L.A. empty, the production is pretty bad —3 years after a plague and there are still plenty of newspapers blowing around? In the early seventies some studios were spending a lot of money on cheesy sci-fi epics like The Omega Man. Or maybe it was just Charlton Heston? The Seventies seemed pockmarked with movies like Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes and Logan's Run. They all have terrible scores and miserable sound effects (was there a composer and foley artist shortage? These movies all "sounded" the same). The dialogue reeks pretty heavily but most of all, with the strangely cast players and poor production values, these movies all look pretty much like television programs. All of those movies have the same look as "McCloud", "Columbo", "The Rockford Files" or "Macmillan and Wife".

I Am Legend is a far better film and it's pretty amazing seeing New York overgrown and abandoned with weeds and plants sprouting through cracks in the street and sidewalks with deer running wild down Broadway. Unlike Omega Man, I Am Legend spends an admirable amount of time showing Robert Neville's (Will Smith) routine of having the city to himself. Because so much of the film focusses on Neville, it means the standard "Holding Back the Zombies" component is much shorter and intense which only helps the pacing.

28 Days Later follows a more conventional arc of a zombie film but the one thing it adds (which I Am Legend keeps) is that the infected zombies are very fast, violent and frightening. In older films you wonder what is exactly so scary about slow moving, dim witted walking corpses. Again, seeing a major city like London deserted is a lot of fun. In this case, the abandonment was short and violent so the littered streets and overturned and burned out vehicles make sense. Another fun aspect of 28 Days is that it is more realistic. People are dirty and no one is taking their leisure looting from clothing shops. The lead character, Jim, at one point is suffering from a headache brought on by a sugar crash — he had been subsisting on junk food for 3 days as it was all they could find to eat. Another character complains that he had seen in a movie that you could collect water as condensation from plastic sheeting but he couldn't get it to work.

If these flicks are too intense then rent "Fido" a Canadian Sci-fi-zombie-comedy (a Zombedy?) which has a zombie filling as both a pet and best friend of a lonely young boy or try Shaun of the Dead, a great and funny parody of the classic zombie movies of the past where it's hard to tell the zombies from the bored slacker teens.

So if you feel like becoming a couch zombie, then check out these clips:

Dawn of the Dead
I Am Legend
The Omega Man
28 Days Later
Shaun of the Dead

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